How to Learn Sign Language: The Basics to Get You Started

How to Learn Sign Language: The Basics to Get You Started

Have you ever wanted to learn a second language? Starting can sometimes be the hardest part. When it comes to American Sign Language (ASL), all it takes is the right first steps to move toward an eventual total understanding.

Here are a few basic tactics to get you started on your road to ASL fluency.

Video Demos

One of the best ways to get started with such a visually based language is to make use of video content to start learning basic signs. While YouTube can be a fantastic resource for this, make sure that you’re utilizing totally reputable sources so you’re not learning signs incorrectly. Videos coming from schools or nonprofit organizations that specialize in ASL are a good place to start.

Practice Fundamentals

Just like spoken languages, learning the alphabet and basic words is foundational to becoming a better signer. Practice the ASL alphabet daily—there are plenty of available placards and posters that depict this so you have a reference guide. Whenever you’re struggling to find the right sign for a given word, you’ll have the alphabet to fall back on—spell it out! This should become second nature to you if you want to become a fluent signer.

Smartphone Apps

You can even take your sign language learning on the go—mobile apps for your smartphone or tablet are becoming more and more common for interested learners. ASL Coach is a great, free starter app for all ages that offers visuals to support your education. Another great educational app is was created by deaf advocate and actress Marlee Matlin—Marlee Signs is free and includes a signing dictionary look-up function.

Immerse Yourself

Like any language, immersing yourself in the culture and in fluent conversations can go a long way toward picking up on some of the fundamentals. Give yourself opportunities to be around signers, whether it’s casual conversations, live performances intended for deaf or hard-of-hearing audiences or clubs and organizations that offer opportunities to meet up or get together with signers. Get exposed to the expertise and start to see what fluency looks like—you’ll pick up good habits for your basic-level understanding.